Workers Health & Safety Centre

Government bows to Labour pressure, withdraws contentious OHS amendments

Government bows to Labour pressure, withdraws contentious OHS amendments
Labour has successfully defeated proposed amendments to Ontario health and safety law which would have threatened the autonomy of Ministry of Labour inspectors.

The proposed Bill 177, Stronger, Fairer Ontario Act (Budget Measures), 2017 sought to amend more than 100 laws, including the Occupational Health & Safety Act (the Act). The concerning amendments would have given a Deputy Minister of Labour legal power through the Act to write policy that has the force of law through directives to OHS inspectors. Labour critics warned this would have set a dangerous precedent because it aimed to bypass the Legislative process and therefore public oversight.

Labour representatives maintained these changes would have also undermined the legal authority and autonomy of a public health and safety inspectorate to enforce the Act and jeopardized their ability to protect workers’ health and safety through threats of discipline and fines under the Act. Many also believed the changes would have ensured employers with valid occupational health and safety accreditation would not be targeted for proactive inspections.

Following a strong labour-led lobby, the Ontario Legislature’s Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs voted down the contentious amendments on December 11.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), which represents MOL OHS inspectors, reported on this latest win. It’s a battle they’re fought and won before. Six years ago the government sought similar powers when drafting Bill 160 amendments to the Act. Len Elliott, OPSEU Regional vice-president, Region 1, who is also an OHS inspector, has been on the frontlines both times. “This was another attempted power grab by Ministry bureaucrats. It’s concerning because it circumvents the legislative process, but it also directly affects the ability of our public inspectorate to conduct independent inspections and investigations. Without that it’s difficult to objectively enforce the law.”

The amended Bill 177 passed final reading in the Legislature and received Royal Assent today, December 14. Amendments to the Act which Labour did support include:
  • Requiring employers who lease workspace to notify the MOL if a committee or a health and safety representative has identified potential structural inadequacies. (This comes from the findings of public inquiry into the Elliot Lake Algo Centre Mall collapse in 2012 in which two died, including one worker).
  • Expanding requirements for reporting accidents or other incidents under section 53 of the Act.
  • Increasing maximum fines for persons convicted under the Act from $25,000 to $100,000 and for corporations convicted raising fines from $500,000 to $1.5 million.
  • Improving the statute of limitation for bringing a prosecution under the Act or the regulations.

WHSC-related articles:
Special Report: Elliot Lake Inquiry issues recommendations to help safeguard workers
Inspecting workplaces and issuing penalties leads to lower injuries

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